Bosnia and Herzegovina SSR Background Note


Key Statistics

Population: 3,875,723 (Military Balance, 2014)

Capital: Sarajevo

Languages: Bosnian, Croatian, Serbian

Major Ethnic Groups: Bosniak 48%, Serb 37.1%, Croat 14.3% (CIA, 2013)

GDP per Capita (current US dollars): 5,299 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

GDP per Capita PPP (current international dollars): 10,359 (IMF World Economic Outlook, 2015)

Security Sector Stats

Active Armed Forces: 10,500 (Military Balance, 2014)

Police Force: 16,618 (Belgrade Centre for Security Policy 2015)

Small Arms: 675,000 in civilian possession, anf 76,000 military firearms (Gun Policy, 2015)

Military Expenditure: In 2015, government expenditure on military was 1.0% of GDP (World Bank 2015)

Table of Contents

1. Introduction and General Background

2. SSR Overview

3. Sector Specific Overview

    i. Security Sector Management and Oversight Bodies

    ii. Defence Reform 

    iii. Police Reform

    iv. Border Police

     v. Judicial Reform

3. Conclusion

1.    Introduction and General Background

The history of Bosnia and Herzegovina (hereafter referred to as Bosnia or BiH) has been marked by ethnic tensions and political violence. Four centuries of Ottoman rule, followed by a brief period under the Austro-Hungarian Empire ended after the First World War when Bosnia became part, first of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, and then of the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. As one of the constituent republics of the Yugoslav federation and due to its central geographic location, Bosnia was selected as a base for the development of the military defence industry. This led to an accumulation of arms and military personnel in Bosnia, which were to play a significant role in the subsequent Bosnian War.

The Cold War years saw Bosnia entertaining fairly peaceful and prosperous relationships within the Yugoslav federation and taking advantage of its own extensive natural resources to stimulate industrial development. However, the death of President Josip Broz Tito and the politically turbulent times that followed upset the political balance in BiH as in the rest of Yugoslavia. The fall of communism at the end of the 1980s coincided with a sharp rise in Serbian nationalist sentiment, with Serbia, under its newly elected President Slobodan Milosevic, imposing dominance over the autonomous provinces of Kosovo and Vojvodina. Having control over three of the eight constituent votes for the federal presidency, the goal of Serbian nationalism was the centralisation of Yugoslavia, while other Yugoslavian ethnicities aspired to increased federalization and decentralization. Eventually Slovenia and Croatia declared independence, which resulted in the Ten Day War in Slovenia and the Croatian War of Independence, both against Yugoslav armed forces commanded by Milosevic’s government in Belgrade.

By the early 1990s, almost 95% of the population of Bosnia belonged to three major ethnic groups: Bosniaks (predominantly Sunni Muslim), Bosnian Serbs (predominantly Orthodox Christian) and Bosnian Croats (predominantly Roman Catholic Christian). According to the 1991 census, Bosniaks numbered roughly 1.9 million, Serbs 1.4 million and Croats 0.7 million. Following the Slovenian and Croatian secessions, Bosnia declared its own independence from the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia through a referendum on 29 February 1992. Bosnia’s independence was soon recognized by the European Community and the United States, but rejected by the Bosnian Serbs, who boycotted the referendum and established their own republic, Republika Srpska, with the capital in Banja Luka. The Bosnian Serbs soon after mobilised their forces in order to secure Serbian territory in BiH. They were supported by the Yugoslav People’s Army and the Government of Slobodan Milosevic.

The conflict that subsequently broke out pitted Bosniaks against Bosnian Serbs, with support from Belgrade, in the most devastating conflict since World War II. Croatia and Bosnian Croats also became involved in the hostilities later, aiming to secure parts of BiH as Croatian after concluding an agreement on the partition of Bosnia with the Serbian political leadership.

The Bosnian War lasted from 1992-1995, leading to the involvement of NATO forces and UN peacekeepers and causing over 100 000 military and civilian fatalities. The Siege of Sarajevo, the Srebrenica massacre and the Lasva Valley ethnic cleansing are only a few examples of the crimes of war, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in large part by Serbian forces, and to a lesser extent by Croat and Bosniak forces, against the populations in Bosnia Herzegovina. In addition to the fatalities, over 2.2 million people were displaced and over 20 000 women raped during the conflict.

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) was established in 1993, and judged all 161 individuals indicted, including all fugitive commanders of the Bosnian Serb Army accused with genocide, war crimes and breach of the Geneva conventions during the Bosnian War. Having been established by the UN as an ad-hoc court and having ensured that leaders suspected of war crimes faced justice, ICTY is expected to close in December 2017 with the United Nations Mechanism for International Criminal Tribunals (MICT) inheriting its functions.

The Dayton Peace Agreement effectively ended the hostilities in BiH, and aimed to promote peace, stability and regional balance. It established the structure of the Bosnian government, dividing its territory into two federated political entities, namely the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina and Republika Srpska. The state, with the capital at Sarajevo, maintained a central government with a rotating presidency, a central bank and a constitutional court. A wide range of international organisations were mandated to oversee the implementation of the agreement, creating a very close-knit relationship between the Bosnian state and the international sphere. The NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR) (December 1995 – December 1996) Stabilisation Force (SFOR) (December 1996 – December 2004), and their successor European Union Force Althea (EUFOR Althea) were responsible for the implementation of the military components of the Dayton Agreement, while the Office of the High Representative (and later the European Union Special Representative) was responsible for the civil components.

In 1999, the EU established the Stabilisation and Association Process (SAP) in the Western Balkans which aimed at a progressive partnership between the countries in the region, including Bosnia, with the ultimate aim of membership. The SAP agreement between Bosnia and the EU entered into force in 2015. BiH submitted its membership application to the EU in February 2016. Through the Delegation and Special Representative, and the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) through which Bosnia receives financial assistance, the EU remains one of the most prominent international actors in public sector reform. As a result of the SAP, the EU Directorate General for Enlargement is monitoring progress in public sector reform and publishes an annual report on the progress in political and economic criteria necessary for membership.

Although the Dayton Agreement and international institutional structure set up in the country brought about a ceasefire and a certain level of peace in the country, talks on the secession of Republika Srpska from the federation still continue. General elections will be held in BiH in October 2018 before which the parties are expected to amend the electoral law, failing to do so due to party fragmentation might lead to political uncertainty in the country. 

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2. SSR Overview

The security framework in BiH has been largely rebuilt with international support after the Dayton agreement. The main challenge has been the decentralised political structure dating to the Dayton Agreement which contradicts the ultimate goal of centralisation favoured by the international SSR donors in the country. The decentralized system with the Dayton Agreement had given the local communities and elites more power on the security sector, which they were not willing to share with centralised government when this was requested by international donors. This has led SSR to be perceived as a political process and has not resulted in local ownership of the reform process.

Important developments include defence sector reform and the creation of a state-level Ministry of Defence and other centralised institutions in intelligence and border control. Police and defence forces were downsized, certifications for police and judiciary were carried out and military and police personnel received professional training. SSR has been, however, seen as a political tool of further centralisation and state building trying to erode the power of regional entities. This has created a resistance at the local level in fully adopting the reform programmes. The socio economic challenges the country is facing currently override security concerns, and hence limit reform prospects. [1]   

Whether the SSR efforts in Bosnia are sustainable is debated, as studies identify low levels of local ownership given the international imposition of the reform programmes where “some local consultation on an already-designed reform agenda” were the only mechanism to ensure local ownership of SSR. Another criticism is the political agendas of international donors overriding the local SSR needs in the country.[2]

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3. Sector Specific Overview

i. Security Sector Management and Oversight Bodies

The defining feature of security sector reform (SSR) in post-war BiH is the close involvement of the international community. Specifically, the power invested in the Office of the High Representative (OHR) by the so-called Bonn authorisations helped create the ripe conditions for SSR after 1997. Due to continued propaganda campaigns by members of Republika Srpska in 1997, the Peace Implementation Council of the Dayton Agreement initially extended the OHR the prerogative to suspend all media whose reporting was inconsistent with the spirit and provisions of the Agreement. The Council subsequently decided to expand the decision-making authority of the OHR to adopt binding decisions/laws when local authorities seem unwilling or unable to act and to remove public officials who violate the provisions of the Dayton Agreement from office. By doing so, the Peace Implementation Council “laid the foundation for an even further international presence in post-war BiH, giving the High Representative the role of ultimate authority in BiH politics.”[3] The High Representative exercised this power on multiple occasions, with a goal towards promoting ethnic cooperation, tolerance and security sector reform.

In 2011, a special position was created for the EU Special Representative, de-coupling the role of fostering Bosnian EU accession from the OHR. This was part of a scaling down of international efforts in BiH, and a shift of focus from internationally-promoted reform to encouraging local politicians to enact autonomous decisions and motivating citizens to expect a certain responsibility from elected leaders for their actions. Nevertheless, this action backfired, as politicians began resisting OHR decisions and suggestions, and the pace of reforms lagged. As a result, the mandate of the OHR was extended past its original 2008 deadline.

The parliamentary oversight of defence and the intelligence agency is an important development in terms of ensuring accountability and transparency in the security sector. In addition, both the Parliament of the FBiH and the National Assembly of RS have security committees that examine the functioning of the security sector. There are also 14 independent oversight bodies that monitor human rights, the budget and communications in the public sector. Although the Institution of Human Rights Ombudsman of Bosnia and Herzegovina was established in 2007 as a state-level oversight mechanism for the public sector, the Ombudsman does not have a specific mandate for the security sector and his security sector recommendations are not implemented, as the mechanisms of security sector oversight have not been established.[4]

OSCE, in cooperation with OHR, played a very important role in security sector reform in BIH, particularly in the first year after the war, when it contributed to communication between representatives of all three warring parties through measures for confidence. The steps taken by OSCE were beneficial for the EU and NATO in conditioning the SSR in the country.

The OHR, together with NATO and OSCE, continues to be among the key international actors for supporting the SSR processes in the country. Although the OHR and EU have a good working relationship, coordination among the international actors over SSR is lacking which has a negative impact for the reform process in the country. In order to avoid duplication of efforts resulting from lack of coordination, the key international actors have focused on different SSR processes, i.e. the OHR focusing on defence and policing, rather than establishing a single comprehensive SSR agenda.

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ii. Defence Reform

Coming out of the war, Republika Srpska and the Federation of BiH each had their own military. In 2003, in an effort to bring the country up to date with current European practices and to fulfil its commitments for NATO membership, the Defence Reform Commission mandated by the OHR created a unified Ministry of Defence on the state level. Moreover, in 2006 the separate Ministries of Defence in Republika Srpska and the Federation were abolished, and the two armies unified into a single force. The number of troops was further reduced from 30 000 in 2003 to 15 000. The international community maintained a strong presence throughout this time through the NATO led-IFOR and SFOR. Defence reform also necessitated a decrease in Bosnia’s spending on its defence from 5% of GDP to the NATO goal of 2% of a member country’s GDP.

In late 2004, the EU operation Althea (EUFOR) replaced SFOR in Bosnia. Because the EU Police Mission (EUPM) was unable to effectively fill the law enforcement void, EUFOR became heavily involved in the fight against organized crime. Military involvement in counter-crime operations was seen as necessary by EUFOR due to the weakness of domestic institutions, despite EUPM accusing EUFOR of overstepping their boundaries. Albeit successfully avoiding the exacerbation of crime, especially human trafficking, EUFOR’s involvement in crime fighting ran counter to internationally accepted SSR norms and underlined the continued weakness of Bosnian law enforcement. EUFOR scaled down its contribution to the fight against crime by late 2005 and was later reconfigured and further reduced to 600 troops in 2012, focusing on capacity-building and training.[5] EUPM’s mission ended in June 2012.

Overall, defence reform in Bosnia has been a success as the international community was able to persuade local stakeholders of the benefits of a federal Ministry of Defence, despite oppositions from local elites who wanted to retain the local military forces. The exercise of authority by the OHR with reference to the Bonn Powers and the convening of two Defence Reform Commissions including local stakeholders were key to this success, leading Bosnia to join NATO’s Partnership for Peace. 

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iii. Police Reform

The Dayton Agreement assigned the task of monitoring and supervising local police forces to the United Nations through the International Police Task Force (IPTF). The IPTF took on an active role in reconstructing the police forces of both the Federation of BiH and Republika Srpska. By 2002, the number of police had been reduced from 44,000 to 15,800 mostly as a result of the vetting carried out by IPTF. In addition, the IPTF was included in training programmes for higher police officials, as well as for new cadets, according to internationally-acknowledged police standards.[6]

In 2003, the European Union Police Mission (EUPM) took over from the IPTF and continued to work with the Bosnian government in order to create a police force conforming to European Union standards. The three main objectives of the EUPM were to support the fight against organized crime, support police reforms and watch over police actions that are "unlawful, misconducts and contrary to the best practice or generally applied rules of engagement." EUPM finished its mission in June 2012 after achieving significant progress in all areas of its mandate. The EU continues to provide technical support to law enforcement agencies through pre-accession assistance (IPA). Furthermore, a new law enforcement section within the office of the EU Special Representative will advise local legislative and executive authorities at the political and strategic level. An important goal of the continuing SSR is to unify the multitude of police forces in the two Bosnian entities, as in the case of the military. Challenges still remain, however, as the domestic political environment has not been conducive to state-building reforms.

Regarding state-level institution building, the IPTF had initiated the creation of State Border Services (SBS) in 2000 and the State Investigation and Protection Agency (SIPA) in 2002. The creation of the SIPA was an important achievement as it was the first institution to have control over the complete territory of BiH.[7]  Evaluating the progress on Justice, Freedom and Security, the European Commission notes that the agreements initiated by SIPA on operational cooperation of police in the cantons in December 2015 and March 2016 are positive developments, however, more needs to be done at the implementation level.[8]   


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iv. Border Police

Immediately following the Dayton Agreement, the border police was controlled by a total of 13 ministries, including the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Republika Srpska and the entity and cantonal Ministries of Internal Affairs of the Federation. The Peace Implementation Council called for the establishment of a unified state border service, but vehement resistance mainly from Republika Srpska meant that the law failed to pass in Parliament. Deeming it a necessity, the High Representative imposed the Law on the Border Service in January 2000, and the State Border Service assumed control of the entire BiH border. Due to the SAP, border control is in the process of harmonisation with the EU. An Integrated Border Management (IBM) strategy is in place since 2016, in line with EU’s IBM concept. The border police are allocated 2,646 staff in its organisation chart, with 20 % vacancy in June 2016. The Joint Risk Analysis Centre (JRAC), which is responsible for the implementation of the IBM strategy, faces a similar problem.[9]

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v. Judicial Reform

In an effort to centralise the Bosnian judicial sector, which was heavily fragmented, regulated by different laws and controlled by elites, the High Representative established the High Judicial and Prosecutorial Council (HJPC), which merged into a single institution at state level in 2004. The OHR also established the Court of BiH and the Prosecutor’s Office of BiH, and had new judges and prosecutors elected by 2002. The BiH Ministry of Justice was created in 2003 and serves as a coordinating body for judicial institutions at state level. The majority of the judicial reform processes were completed in the period between from 1998 to 2003. Later on, the international community encouraged a hands-off approach to encourage ownership; a national justice strategy was developed in this process. Republika Srpska has continued to resist the judicial reform processes where state-level control was not welcome.[10]

Despite the noticeable progress, the OSCE describes judicial reform in BiH as far from complete. The goal of the BiH justice system to be fully capable of upholding the principles of the rule of law remains  distant, due in large part to a fragmented institutional structure. Moreover, fragmentation leads to a lack of coordination among the numerous levels of government and relevant judicial institutions. Laws and procedures have not been harmonized on the different government levels (state, entities, Brcko District), resulting in a lack of transparency and often the failure to uphold equality before the law. Bosnia similarly lacks a superior judicial authority, such as a Supreme Court, and the constitutional status of the national Court and Prosecutor’s Office are still challenged in some political circles. In its 2016 report, EU underlined Bosnia’s progress in judicial reform, but warned of backsliding in the public sector reform.[11] Of the many challenges facing the justice sector today, four jurisdictions with unharmonised legal frameworks, fragmented institutional set-up and source of budgeting present the greatest challenges –leading to an inefficient justice sector. The fight against corruption has also been slow in BiH, as mentioned by the 2016 report of the European Commission. The public trust in the judicial system is low and needs to be improved for citizens to resort to legal means to seek compensation.


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3. Conclusion

Security sector reform in Bosnia has been primarily an internationally supported process through various organs such as the OHR and EUSR. However, the decreasing role of the international community in SSR must be met by a strong locally owned process and the necessary political will for these efforts to endure. Serb, Croat and Bosniak political groups must work together to introduce necessary structural reforms in the police, defence, judicial and oversight sectors that respond to citizens’ needs. The SAP with the aim of ultimate membership and harmonisation of national law with that of the acquis could be the international anchor for Bosnia and other countries in the Western Balkans. However, with the mandates of other international actors being further prolonged, the problem of coordination of SSR efforts remains a challenge for SSR in Bosnia.  

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Open source documents are available on the following websites and have been used in the development of this background note:

Klopfer, Franziska, Douglas Cantwell, Miroslav Hadžić and Sonja Stojano, eds. ‘Context Analysis of the Security Sector Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1990-2009’, in Almanac on Security Sector Oversight in the Western Balkans , (DCAF, 2012), 16.

Hadzovic, Denis  and Emsad Dizdarevic, ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina’ in Almanac on Security Sector Oversight in the Western Balkans, Franziska Klopfer, Douglas Cantwell, Miroslav Hadžić and Sonja Stojanović  (Belgrade Centre for Security Policy and Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces, 2012), 47-73.

Marijan, Branka, Assessing the Impact of Orthodox Security Sector Reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina , Center for Security Governance Papers, No. 9 (Center for Security Governance, 2016).

Marijan, Branka, The Gradual Emergence of Second Generation Security Sector Reform in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Center for Security Governance Papers, No. 13 (Center for Security Governance, 2016).

Marijan, Branka, and Dejan Guzina, The Politics of the “Unfinished Business”: Bosnian Police Reform , CIGI Policy Brief, No. 42 (Centre for International Governance Innovation, 2014).

European Commission, ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina 2016 Report’ 

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[1]  Marijan, B., 'Second Generation SSR in Bosnia Herzegovina', Centre for Security Governance, 2017.

[2]  Marijan, B., 'Assessing Orthodox SSR in Bosnia', Centre for Security Sector Governance, 2016.

[3]  Franziska Klopfer, Douglas Cantwell, Miroslav Hadžić and Sonja Stojano, eds. ‘Context Analysis of the Security Sector Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1990-2009’, in Almanac on Security Sector Oversight in the Western Balkans  (2012) DCAF, p. 16.

[4]  Hadzovic and Dizdarevic, “Bosnia and Herzegovina.” In Almanac on Security Sector Oversight in the Western Balkans . Belgrade Centre for Security Policy and Geneva Centre for Democratic Control of Armed Forces 2012 p. 59-61

[5]  Background, EUFOR Official Website

[6]  Franziska Klopfer, Douglas Cantwell, Miroslav Hadžić and Sonja Stojano, eds. ‘Context Analysis of the Security Sector Reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina 1990-2009’, in Almanac on Security Sector Oversight in the Western Balkans  (2012) DCAF, p. 14.

[7]  Marijan and Guzina, 2014. The Politics of the “Unfinished Business”: Bosnian Police Reform . CIGI Policy Brief p. 4

[8]  European Commission 'Bosnia and Herzegovina 2016 Report'

[9]  ibid

[10]  Marijan, B. 'Assessing Orthodox SSR in Bosnia', p.17

[11]  European Commission, Bosnia and Herzegovina 2016 Report 

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The International Security Sector Advisory Team

The International Security Sector Advisory Team (ISSAT) provides practical support to the international community in its efforts to improve security and justice, primarily in conflict-affected and fragile states. It does this by working with a group of member states and institutions to develop and promote good security and justice reform practices and principles, and by helping its members to build their capacity to support national and regional security and justice reform processes.